One the critical skills needed to achieve long-term success in relationships is the ability to summon positive thoughts about the other person or your life together.
In rocky relationship times our minds seize on the negatives; we are less inclined to balance that view with the positive. We are less able to recognize the positive in the person or the situation—because we are, after all, human.
Meanwhile, those we call “Masters of Marriage” develop a skill to diffuse the pessimism and summon positive thoughts about their partner.
Jack and Diane are a perfect example.
On a recent evening, coming downstairs after getting the kids bathed and in their pajamas, Diane noticed that the roasting pan in which the meal was cooked was sitting in the sink, full of grease and stuck-on scraps. Jack had neglected to clean it, and was now sitting in his favorite spot on the couch playing on his phone. It barely registered for her that he had washed the plates and utensils from dinner, and wiped down the counters.
In the past, Diane’s thought would have been, Do I have to do everything? And on this night, she could have given into those feelings and popped off on Jack, saying something critical about expecting her to always manage the household.
Instead, she took a few calming breaths, and reminded herself that he had washed most of the dishes and cleaned the countertops. She paused and connected with a feeling of gratitude for the positives that were actually present.
Diane and Jack have been working on creating what we call a “Culture of Appreciation,” which is important for the longevity of any relationship. This is the flip side of “toxic positivity”—turning a blind eye to the issues—which is not productive and leads couples to avoiding their conflicts instead of addressing them together.
On this night, Diane goes to Jack, and says, “I really appreciate that you washed the plates and wiped the counters! That makes my night so much better. Thanks for being a teammate here. Before you turn on the TV, would you please get the big pan soaking? I can finish up after I get the kids in bed.”
The bottom line is this: In challenging situations, we need to calm ourselves down, and—from a centered place—ask for what we need, clearly and directly. We speak of the negatives, but in a way that expresses appreciation for the positives. Starting from appreciation rather than criticism opened a dialogue that helped Jack and Diane function better as a team.
And yes, this is easier said than done! Which is why we acknowledge it as a skill we can learn and improve upon. With practice, it becomes more intuitive and natural. Over time, you and your partner will be more likely to bring up and resolve problems early on, creating a stronger relationship.
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